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Posts Tagged ‘Liturgy’

So, at this point I am identifying as some kind of a quasi-transcendentalist vaguely-Hinduish esoterically-inclined green Christian. How I got there from paganism is not really the topic of this post, but I promise to post about it someday. Maybe.

The topic of this post if the trouble with finding a church home for my family, and the disappointment of modern liberal Mainline Christianity.

We have been going to a Presbyterian (PC(USA)) church for a couple of weeks, and I am increasingly feeling like it’s probably not going to work out. I haven’t passed a verdict yet, but so far I am seeing a lot of things that lead me to conclude that this church, like many other liberal Protestant churches, emphasizes social justice to the near-total exclusion of theology, personal righteousness, and spirituality.

And that is the heart of my conundrum. There simply appear to not be a lot of churches out there that are able to be theologically liberal without it reducing to merely politically liberal (and theologically nothing at all). I’m sure my more theologically conservative friends are going to insist that such a reduction is inevitable, that theological liberalism invariably leads to no theology at all. I dunno; they may be right, but I kind of think that’s a false dichotomy. I think that the reduction of theologically liberal churches to mere social justice clubs has a lot more to do with American culture wars and political polarization than it does about anything inherent about liberal theology. But either way, it’s immensely frustrating.

My notions of spirituality and theology may be offbeat, but they’re what I am focused on and interested in, not social justice. Make no mistake, I believe that Christianity can and should give rise to social gospel concerns and the desire to address the evils of our society. But if that’s all that’s going on at your church, I would suggest that you are putting the cart before the horse, and I suspect that if I look hard, I will see that your social gospel is motivated almost purely by political and cultural considerations, not by spiritual or theological ones. And thus I am not interested in going to your church at all, because it has nothing that interests me.

In many ways, I think I would be happier being a quiet heretic in an orthodox, theologically conservative church. Except that I don’t necessarily want my kids indoctrinated that way. And I’m not sure how well being a quiet heretic really works out in practice.

A related issue is the fact that right now we live in a large northern metropolitan area: most of my neighbors are Catholics, Jews, or nonreligious. There’s not the massive smorgasbord of Protestant churches to pick from that I grew up with in my Appalachian-upper-South hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. And while I would dearly love to move back to the South (sooner rather than later), this is where I am at the moment.

Going to church is important to me and to my family (for a lot of reasons–maybe a topic for another post that I can promise to write and then never deliver on?), so I’m not okay with just being religious-at-home. So that’s out, too.

One thing I am considering is whether I will find more satisfaction in a communion/eucharist-centered liturgical tradition. The homily may be about something ridiculously politically liberal, but the service is centered on the eucharist, the eucharist is the real message. Isn’t it? Or am I just cruising for more disappointment? Of course, this line of thinking points me once again in an Anglican direction, which is somewhat comforting. I wouldn’t mind finding a nice Episcopal parish to belong to.

On the other hand, I know that a thought-provoking sermon is essential for my beautiful and sexy wife–it’s basically what she wants to go to church for. And she’s not wild about lots of liturgy. so, Episcopalianism may not be the way to go after all. Where we would really like most to be is back at Cedar Ridge Community Church, but that’s a long drive for a Sunday morning. Cedar Ridge was far from my personally perfect, ideal church, but it was a pretty good place for us as a family. But that’s moot, because there doesn’t seem to be anything comparable around here. I’ve looked.

So there you go. I’m not really sure what to do. I feel like I and my family have pressing spiritual needs, but I am growing increasingly concerned that the right church for meeting those needs doesn’t exist anywhere nearby.

PS, here’s a good recent editorial about (sigh) the state of the Episcopal Church that addresses a lot of these issues.

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Taking a suggestion from the now-defunct (but excellent and accessible) Sponde: Hands-On Hellenism website, I decided to put together a personal calendar for prayer and worship. The idea was really to just get started and dive in, rather than to agonize over just the right way to set it all up. I can tinker later if I feel I need to, but nobody’s looking over my shoulder to tell me I’m doing it wrong (well, other than the gods). I have spent so much time dragging my feet and procrastinating getting serious about this, that it has been so refreshing to just get something down in a concrete form and start practicing. So, here’s how it stands at the moment: each day of the week I say prayers and make offerings to one (or two) specific gods and/or goddesses. I chose the gods that I did because of a combination of their personal meaning to me and their applicability to me (so, I chose Aphrodite and Dionysus because of significant mystical experiences, and I chose Zeus and Herakles because of their significance as household gods).

Monday: Herakles
Tuesday: Zeus
Wednesday: The Divine Twins (Apollo and Artemis)
Thursday: Aphrodite
Friday: Dionysus
Saturday: Hermes

Sunday is my day to choose a different god or goddess, for whatever reason, so I can rotate in whomever I need to (or even offer the odd prayer to Odin every now and then). In addition to my daily devotions, I add some other regular and irregular prayers and offerings. First, every morning, I light the tart burner in the living room (our hearth I guess–the trend among Hellenic polytheists seems to be to substitute the kitchen, but it just doesn’t seem central to our home) and say a short prayer to Hestia. Also, thanks to a reminder from my beautiful and sexy Christian wife who Pagan-pWn3d me, another prayer to Hestia goes at the end of the day when we blow the candle out to go to bed.

Second, when the opportunity arises, I also plan on praying to Hera with my awesome and incredibly supportive wife. I feel like it is important to pray to Hera as a couple, except maybe when you go to her with a specific particular concern. But general praise and honor seems like it makes the most sense coming from both of us, united and desperately in love despite our different beliefs. Third, since I do a fair amount of hiking and tramping about the woods, I plan on offering at least a quick prayer each to Dionysus, Pan, and Artemis whenver I do so. Finally, I will pray and pour out libations to the other gods and goddesses whenever appropriate (to Ares when I am headed out to military service, for example), and also in the context of seasonal rituals and celebrations, which are still seriously under construction.

So far, it has been pretty fulfilling. I feel like my faith is becoming better integrated into my life, even though what I do doesn’t really take up much in terms of time and effort. It gives me a sense of calm and of spiritual accomplishment, like I am building a real and meaningful relationship with the gods instead of just thinking about building a relationship with them.

I’m also thinking about composing a kind of set of written devotions/rituals to the gods that I pray to and worship, soemthing for me to use in my daily devotions but that will also let me change things up a bit. A sort of rotating program of Hymns and Devotions, maybe three to each god/dess in sets, one for each week to go in a three-week cycle. As I write them, I will post them here on the blog.

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After I finished with final exams, I was able to take a day for myself and go tromping around the woods. It was a few days after any reasonable dating for the holiday (the full moon was on the 9th, but I wasn’t able to get out and about until the 15th), but it was close enough and my most practical option.

So I spent a day exploring undeveloped parkland in Montgomery County, which was a lot of fun. Most of these areas are parcels of land bought by the county and technically part of the park system, but with no access or anything–they’re just pieces of woods that you can go play in if you can find a way to get there. The day was tough on my allergies, and I wound up really exerting myself with a day full of exploration, but it was a lot of fun. I even found a cool snake under an old corroded piece of metal. Getting a chance to be outside in nature does me a lot of good and generally makes me feel a lot saner.

My other project for the day was to try out the Beltaine liturgy from Greer’s Druidry Handbook, as a way of kicking off my AODA candidate year. So one of my goals while exploring was finding a suitable place for a ritual. It took me a bit of time and expense to gather all of the needed materials (and I wound up not having a sprig of hawthorn, or any idea of how to find one). I used a katana instead of a medieval European-style sword because it’s what I have on hand, and I wound up just putting my white altar cloth on the ground for lack of anything more altar-like. I also made an on-the-spot substitution of gods, invoking Aphrodite in the ritual instead of Niwalen (I already have a close relationship with Aphrodite, and she seems like an entirely appropriate goddess for Beltaine).

Honestly, I could have come into it with better preparation, so it was a definite learning experience. Without a sprig of hawthorn, I just used a sprig from a sapling nearby, which was a little unsatisfying. And I had to carry the book around with me because I hadn’t learned the liturgy very well. No spiritual fireworks went off during the ritual, but when I was finished, I had a sudden and very interesting sense of spiritual wholeness and satisfaction, like I had accomplished something that was actually significant.

My location was kind of fantastic, with a few exceptions. It was pretty difficult to get access to (I had to park on the side of the highway and tromp in past some backyards), and there were an insane number of ticks, but that’s partly an issue of season and not going to get much better in any wooded area. But I was flicking the little buggers off of my arms and legs all day long. Those issues aside, it was a wooded hilltop with a bunch of clearings covered in this vibrant green ground cover, and the hill was almost entirely surrounded by two branches of a little creek. It was the kind of place where you could almost feel a spiritual presence. If I get the chance, I would like to go back.

I wasn’t wild about Greer’s seasonal liturgy before I gave it a spin, and now I’m rather excited about it. This is not to say that I am prepared to accept it as scripture or anything, but I would like to try it again. The holiday-specific stuff didn’t drive me wild–really it is just an offering, an invocation of deity, and a meditation session (it was hard fro me to concentrate when I was imagining ticks crawling all over me)–but the general opening and closing of the Druid’s circle was pretty awesome, and I will definitely keep using that, even if I wind up cherry-picking the rest.

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Once again this year I am baffled by how big of a deal Mormons do not make out of Easter. It’s a total non-holiday, while by contrast in most of the rest of the Christian world it is the high point in the liturgical (or even semi-liturgical or not liturgical at all!) year. It is the culmination of at least forty days of preparation, prayer and fasting, and it is the most important holiday in the religion.

By contrast, in most Mormon wards you’ll get some resurrection-themed hymns and probably a talk or two about the Atonement, maybe, or about Jesus generally. And if you confront Mormons about this they’ll say they focus on the Atonement all year long, so they don’t need to go out of their way to make an even bigger deal about it just once a year. Which of course implies that the rest of Christianity is ignoring Jesus all year long except for one big day in the spring. And that is complete poppycock. What Mormons do not understand about Christianity is that there is a cycle, a rhythm to the year of worship, and the climax of all of it is Easter. It’s like the liturgical year is a song about Jesus, but Holy week is the Crescendo, the apex, the high point, the really cool part of the song where the horns come in and it blows you completely away!

What Mormons also don’t understand is that their caricature-ideas about mainstream Christianity is either completely inaccurate or nearly 200 years out of date.

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When I think of direction in religion and my ongoing conundrum, some of my difficulties fit the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy really well.  Simply put, in terms of Apollonian religious experience, Christianity is the most appealing and compelling to me.  Christianity (and for me I mean mostly Episcopalian/Anglican Protestantism) is beautiful: I love the liturgy, the hymns, I love the churches.  I like the idea of a professional, trained clergy, and am comfortable with a degree of hierarchical authority, especially when it is given legitimacy by the weight of tradition, and when it is unable or unwilling to exercise its authority in a heavy-handed or abusive way.  I like an authoritative clergy, not an authoritarian one.  I like the freedom of thought that is (often) preserved in Episcopalianism.  I like Christian theology and history.  I like churches and cathedrals, and the entire aesthetic of Christianity.

But on the Dionysian side, nothing happens.  Jesus does not intoxicate me.  I am not in love with Jesus.  I don’t feel a connection to Jesus, a relationship with Him.  Nothing, nada, not at all.  I have no problem with Jesus conceptually–I think he’s pretty great, and the idea of a personal, mystical relationship with the incarnate God of the Universe is amazing to me.  But I can’t figure out how to make it happen at all.

I’m sure someone is going to say that that side of religion is not important or crucial, but they’re wrong, at least when it comes to me.  I’m not just going to embrace a religion because it sounds good and looks good on paper.  I need something more.  I hunger for the divine, and the Apollonian, while really important, simply does not sate that hunger.  So I am just not okay with a spiritual direction where I don’t make some kind of contact with god.

I actually started to wonder if maybe the mystical/Dionysian side of religion either didn’t exist, or just wasn’t going to happen for me.  I was waiting for it, and trying to put myself in situations where it could happen: I didn’t want to close myself off to the possibility of some kind of Road to Emmaus moment, but at the same time I was wary about lowering the bar on mystical experience too far.  If Mormonism taught me only one thing about religion, it is how easy it is to manufacture your own spiritual experiences if you want them bad enough and are willing to deceive yourself.

So, perhaps you can imagine my surprise and the eager excitement I felt when a Dionysian experience really did happen to me.  Perhaps you can also understand the special irony in the fact that I felt this Dionysian connection not with Jesus or Yahweh at all, but of all deities, …with Dionysus.  More on that in a future post, though.  Suffice it to say that at this point, my barrier to Christianity is not just that I am not getting the mystical access to Jesus that I want and need, but that I am actually getting it somewhere else.

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My initial reason for leaving Mormonism was because it conflicted with Christianity (at least the way I understood Christianity). So somewhat naturally, my assumption on the way out of Mormonism was that really finding God was just a matter of figuring out which Christian denomination I belonged in. The questions I was asking and trying to figure out were still sort of narrow Christian theological questions about soteriology, ecclesiology, and so on: what points of Christian doctrine were non-negotiable for me, and what points were less important. I spent about a half a year investigating different flavors of Christianity without feeling that “click”–that sense of coming home that I was waiting for.  Something more than an intellectual affinity that would enable me to adopt a new identity as a Christian. Christianity as a religion held a lot of appeal (and still does!), but there was something deeply visceral that I needed but that was just missing. There was a sense of “aha!–this is it!” that just was not happening with Christianity. Eventually, I started to question whether Christianity was the right direction for me at all, and I started looking elsewhere.

For the most part, that’s been the story of my post-Mormon life: back and forth between Christianity and “vaguely searching.” I like Christian liturgy, Christian prayer, I like theology, hymns, churches and cathedrals, Christian philosophy, the Bible, the whole nine yards. But it just doesn’t click. I’m not sure what’s actually supposed to happen that makes me say “there, that’s it; now I am a Christian,” but it never happens. Its like there’s a Christianity neuron in my brain that just isn’t firing. I like Christianity a lot, but I neither believe Christianity nor am able to commit to Christianity. That’s the thing. So I dive into Christianity again and again–at least in my head–hoping that this time that click in my head will happen and I will realize what it feels like to be a Christian, but it keeps not happening.  So I look around in, at, and under other things: Hinduism, New Age gobbledygook, Atheism, LaVeyan Satanism, Zen, Revival Druidry, Asatru, whatever. But the click doesn’t happen in those places either, and then I can’t shake Christianity’s powerful hold on me, so I wander back and throw myself in, but the click still doesn’t happen.

I understand Christianity conceptually. I have read the Bible. But it just isn’t relevant to me on the deep, personal level that I feel like it should, like I need it to in order to get me to a place where I am willing to say “I am a Christian; this I believe.”  The Bible connects to me as a cultural relic, a powerful one even, that is fundamental to the history of western civilization.  But as God’s Word, it just doesn’t resonate the right way.

A few weeks ago I was talking to my wife about religion and our different outlooks on the universe, and I told her that I really wish I could somehow make Christianity work for me, because it would be so much easier. And she said, simply but incisively, “but it doesn’t.” And there it was. No matter how much I like Christianity, no matter how much I love every word C. S. Lewis wrote, no matter how much I like Episcopal services and liturgy, no matter how much I think the Bible is amazing, Christianity just doesn’t work for me. The click I need to happen just… doesn’t happen.

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On the one hand, I’m sure it looks like I’m going ’round and ’round in circles with God and religion, retreading the same ground and getting nowhere. Sometimes I wonder if that is in fact what is going on, and if I can ever be satisfied and happy. Most of the time, though, I am pretty sure that I am slowly, carefully refining the issues, figuring out really what is at stake and what I think, and what decisions I really have to make.

At the moment, I think I have my religious question basically boiled down to the following ideas:

I’m inclined to think that there is a god, even though I have my doubts. I do not think that god is completely knowable by human beings. I also do not necessarily think that getting some (or even a lot of) things wrong about god is as big of a deal as human beings historically tend to. I’m not sure if god is personal or impersonal, or if god is maybe impersonal but with facets that can be personal-ish. Maybe. In any case, atheism does not suit me. I want both a religious identity and a path for spiritual development. Thus, I want a religion.

I really like a lot of things about Christianity. I find Christian theology appealing. I like the liturgy, the hymns, the architecture, the ritual, the idea of church, the liturgical year, the resurrection. I like C. S. Lewis, a lot. When I read C. S. Lewis, I want to be a Christian. Theoretically, I like the Bible, even though my attempts at reading it over the last two years have been most unsatisfactory.  I’m attached to Christianity as a religion, and am extremely bothered by the idea of giving it up entirely.  I even sometimes entertain the notion of going to seminary and becoming an Episcopal priest someday.

Unfortunately, despite everything I’ve just said, I don’t think I actually believe (in) Christianity. I like the idea of Jesus Christ as God incarnate quite a bit, but I don’t seem to actually believe that it it is so. I like the idea of salvation from sin through Jesus Christ’s supreme sacrifice, but I’m not sure I’m really all that worried about my sins, I find the idea of hell implausible, I don’t necessarily feel like I am in need of salvation (I feel plenty of wretched, just not necessarily wretched because of my sins or sinful nature) and I’m not convinced that this supreme sacrifice in fact happened. I think that the resurrection is plausible, but I don’t necessarily think that it means the whole package of Christianity is true.

I think I actually believe something a whole lot more like Vedanta, like the ideas expressed in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita about Brahman and everything, the world and people and you and me and God, all being really the same thing. I’m not culturally Indian, so Hinduism as a religion has no appeal to me whatsoever, and all of the New Religious Movements that have spun off from Hinduism in the west are, well, New Religious Movements. Pretty much they are to Hinduism what Mormonism is to Christianity (and Soka Gakkai is to Buddhism), and I am not interested in that at all. I’ve already done aa quasi-cult, thanks. I’m not really in the market for another one.

So I would prefer to read the Bible because I prefer the idea of reading the Bible, but in reality I find the Gita and the Upanishads so much more meaningful.

Also, I find various flavors of Paganism (neo and otherwise) extremely appealing: Asatru, Druidry, the Greek Gods, etc. I feel like all of that would dovetail a whole lot better with the Bhagavad Gita than it would the Bible. I’m European, not Indian, so actually becoming a Hindu is not interesting at all to me, but I think that the philosophy underlying Hinduism and tying it together can easily be applied to any Indo-European mythology.  I think that AODA Druidry as spiritual practice, Vedanta as philosophy, and European myth as a corpus of spiritual literature is an extremely reasonable combination, and probably a hell of a lot closer to what I actually believe than Chistianity ever will be.

But, Christianity is more appealing for some reason.  And for a lot of reasons, Vedanta+Druidry+Mythology, although it might actually be what I believe, is extremely unappealing.  There’s a lack of clear religious identity, for one.  There’s no Christmas.  Druidry as spiritual practice sometimes seems shallow and empty to me–it is missing the millennia of tradition that Christianity has.  There are the social and cultural problems with identifying as an odd religion.  Treading a new path means missing out on the guidance of people who have gone before.  There’s the worry that I’m really just cherry-picking the things I like.  There are issues about the source of morality and the source of values (that I am exploring in another series of posts).  And in my head, Vedanta+Druidry+Mythology just doesn’t have the same, I don’t know, pow! that Christianity has.  And it doesn’t have C. S. Lewis.

So I know what I probably believe, but it doesn’t happen to be the same thing as what I would like to believe.  But my desire to believe Christianity is subtly undermined by the things I actually do believe.  I’m not sure how to resolve this painlessly–there may simply be no painless resolution–but I think it is extremely important that I have arrived at (or at least I’m getting closer to) the central question in my search for God.

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I am actually writing this post from… the future!

Seriously, in going back and assembling my list of high points along the journey, I realized that there are a couple of spots where important things happened, I didn’t blog about them, and I didn’t go back and explain what happened either. This is one of those spots, so I will try to recap for the sake of historical continuity.  So I am actually writing this post on April 2, 2009 to go back and fill in the blanks, and I am inserting it timewise into the summer of 2008.

In the spring of 2008, I headed east, spiritually speaking. I read a lot of the Baghavad Gita, I watched a lot of Heroes, and my daughter was born. For awhile, I thought that a kind of quasi-Dharmic Hinduism was going to be the path for me. I even went and started a new blog called “Dharma Bum” which I subsequently deleted (after bringing the important posts back here, so they wouldn’t be lost).

My brother came to visit with his wife in April, and he brought a bunch of books about Zen Buddhism, which I had never really considered seriously before. In particular, the book Hardcore Zen struck me as relevant and important. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that Zen Buddhism was the right path for me–the truths that it espoused were, for the most part, things that I believed to be self-evident truths about the universe. I had some semantic concerns about distinguishing the Hindu Atman from the Buddhist Anatman, but that was more the kind of thing that could produce long, quirky debates later on. Important was the Zen universe was a universe I believed in, and Zen meditation seemed rally helpful to me.

But there was still a nagging feeling that this wasn’t really the right thing for me. Maybe it was jsut my fear of spiritual commitment, I don’t know. But it seemed to me that the problem with Zen was not that i thought it was untrue, but that it did not provide me with things I wanted and needed, spiritually speaking: a culturally relevant context with ritual, compelling mythological framework, professional clergy, etcetera. Although I couldn’t make myself believe that Christianity was true, I still felt an attraction to the Episcopal Church that in my opinion contradicted my Zen inklings.

My brother’s advice was just to pick one, go with it, and see what happens. And eventually that’s what I did.

While studying for final exams last April, I read C. S. Lewis’s Surprised By Joy, which is an amazing book. I was surprised to see how unconventional Lewis’s conversion to Christianity was, and in the end, I started to feel like the Episcopal Church really was the place for me–a place to be, in fact, even if I was not sure about my belief in Christianity.

So when we moved to New York for the summer, we started attending an Episcopal Church in the Village, and I even went to services at Trinity during my lunch hour downtown. It was meaningful and important to me, but there was some critical quality that was just elusive. I read every C. S. Lewis book I could get my hands on, I prayed and did devotions, and I thought of myself as a Christian, a Protestant, and an Anglican.

Maybe the biggest problem was that, concurrent to all of this, I spiralled into what might have been the worst depression I have ever been in. I can’t even describe it beyond saying that it was an absolute nightmare, and finally getting help and eventually climbing out of it has saved my life. My beautiful and sexy wife was there for me in my darkest hours, even when things got scary and that means so much to me. But in a lot of ways, God was distant, and I couldn’t figure out why. I literally cried out to Jesus to deliver me, but things just kept getting darker.

My love affair with Christianity started to enter a period of uncertainty when we came back to Maryland, partly because I was just plain more interested in Led Zeppelin than I was in religion. I still kept Episcopal Christianity in my head as a spiritual placeholder, but even then I wasn’t sure anymore–not because Christianity hadn’t pulled me out of my depression, because for all I know things might have been a lot worse without prayer and devotion, but just because my interest was fading. Again, fear of spiritual commitment? Maybe. But also Christianity honestly just wasn’t punching all of the spiritual buttons I needed to have punched.

Incidentally, I haven’t really felt the need or desire to go back to Zen. It is interesting, and probably, in retrospect, the religion whose truth-claims are the closest to matching reality, but despite being true, it is so stripped down that it actually lacks Truth.

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Everyone’s writing about the big issues in the communion: homosexuality, schism, Lambeth, GAFCON, the global South, post-colonialism, the covenant, etc

These are a big deal, sure, but in the meantime, nobody is really writing about, well, Jesus.  Or anything else.  It’s not that I expect people to pretend that the big happenings aren’t happening, but as I’m more and more certain that Anglicanism is the direction for me, I’m eager to engage in conversations about theology, about spirituality, about God, about prayer, about Church history, about the Bible, about liturgy, about Christian life, about the environment, about poverty, about war, about government.  About poetry, art, mythology, history, music, anything.  There’s so much that is informed by faith that is worth talking about.

Instead, it’s all Church politics, all the time.  It’s disappointing.  Maybe Anglicans, especially in countries like mine where church membership is low and dropping, need to hear this: nobody’s going to want to join a church when the only issue is internecine politics.  Even those who do, like me, are finding it difficult to stay enthusiastic.

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I am increasingly suspicious that Christianity isn’t going to do the trick for me.  I have reasons.

First, I really do not think that that Christianity, the Bible, the God of the Bible, and/or Jesus Christ objectively represent absolute truth.  I’m just not convinced, and I think, weighing the evidence in my mind, that it is less likely than otherwise that Jesus is the Son Of God send down to be Sacrificed For Our Sins and representing the One True Way.  Absent some compelling reason to think otherwise, I just don’t believe it’s True.

That, of course, does not end the inquiry, because I’m pretty skeptical in general of the practical reality of objective absolute truth.  I’m willing to accept the possibility that Christianity is Truth even if its foundational and theological truth-claims are questionable.  To that end, I have danced around with Christianity and belief in Jesus for most of the past year.  I’ve prayed.  I’ve read in the gospels.  I’ve attended a handful of churches.  My attitude was that I was willing to set aside the objective truth inquiry and settle for asking if Christianity is meaningful to me.  I had an intuition that there was transofrmational power in Christianity that I was keenly interested in, that Christianity could turn me into a New Man, the way C. S. Lewis talks about it in Mere Christianity.  I even felt the beginnings of some kind of personal transformation in my life as I genuinely tried to live a Christian life.

So why then am I afraid to move forward?  What holds me back from asserting, “this is what I believe; this is where I stand?”  What keeps me from diving in and accepting Jesus Christ and Christianity with open arms?  What is it about Christianity that simultaneously attracts and repels me?  I know there are probably some simplistic answers from the Christian perspective.  I’m not interested in those; I don;t really find them convincing.

Am I so scarred from my disentanglement from Mormonism that I am unwilling to embrace any religion, like an abuse victim who has a hard time forming new relationships because of deep-seated trust issues?  Did Mormonism leave me with a lingering sense that I will only be satisfied when I find a religion that I am certain is objectively, absolutely true?  (If so, I’m pretty much screwed, because I’m comfortable saying there ain’t one out there).  If I say No to Christianity, will I be able to say Yes to anything else?

What is it about Christianity that appeals to me?  I like Jesus himself, and his teachings.  I find the general theology of Christianity, the picture of God made man to save fallen humanity, appealing and comforting.  I like Christian liturgy.  I like hymns.  I am comfortable with the Bible (although I have spent my life learining to see it through uniquely Mormon eyes, so in many ways I am still completely new to scripture).  I’m a western person, and Christianity is unquestionably the religion of the West–it’s the religious currency of our society and it is probably the most culturally relevant.  And like I said above, Christianity at least seems to offer something transformational that I feel like I need.  I’m a pretty broken person in a lot of ways, and I think I could certainly use a heapin’ helpin’ of healin’ atonement.

Also, I really like Christmas.  Particularly, I like the religious/sacred message of Christmas.  The juxtaposition of the darkest, coldest time of the year with the birth of Mankind’s salvation.  I love the sacred Christmas hymns.  I love the Christmas story in the gospels.  I eat it up with a spoon.  I’m not sure what I’d make of Christmas if I wasn’t a Christian (watch for a blog post coming up about this), but I am absolutely unwilling to completely give it up.

On the other hand, I have a sneaking, growing suspicion that the Jesus of history really wasn’t the Jesus of Christianity.  If Jesus isn’t actually the one true savior of fallen humanity, then I don’t really need him in any any kind of external, objective, cosmological sense (I may personally need him because of the requirements of my own psyche, but that’s a different issue).  And if I don’t need him, then what is he to me?  Even if there is truth and meaning in the Jesus myth, I don’t know that I am willing to make it my exclusive truth and meaning or even my primary truth and meaning.

I don’t think I believe in a personal god at all, and I also don’t think I belive that Jesus is a unique incarnation of God.  I’m not convinced that the gospels are an accurate depiction of the life of Jesus, or that Paul’s epistles are a univerally and objectively correct interpretation of the life of Jesus, either.  I’m not certain I think I need Jesus to save me from my sins (since I’m not really sure I belive in sin, hell, or the Devil, certainly in the orthodox Christian sense).  I’m also strongly turned off by both fundamentalist/evangelical and liberal Christians, and I have serious reservations about the emerging conversation.

I’m not certain that I want all of my life to be Jesus-flavored.  In other words, I’m not ready to devote myself completely to Jesus, and I don’t know if I’m even interested in doing so–sometimes it seems great, but usually it seems like to make it work for me I’d have to do a lot of self-brainwashing that I am absolutely unwilling to do.

What about the personal transformation that I claimed to have felt beginning?  If that’s the result I want from religion, and my intuition says Christianity offer it, and I’ve even felt its beginnings as I started to practice Christianity, then why did I stop?  They were great, I’ll admit it.  In fact, This is not an easy question to answer.  Maybe personal transofrmation isn’t really what I’m wanting after all.  Or maybe it is, but there’s too much other stuff in the package of Christianity (or even in the package of Jesus), such that I feel the need to look elsewhere for transformation.  Or maybe a part of the transformation I wanted was a connection, a relationoship with God that never seemed to actually happen.  Perhaps the transformation I want is not just into a better person, but a better person that is connected to God.  And I certainly didn’t feel like that was happening.  Not even a little bit.

So what am I supposed to make of all of this?  I’m at a loss.  On some level I have an attraction to Jesus and to Christianity, but not such that I would be willing to call myself (or think of myself as) Christian in any meaningful sense.  Does it matter?  On one level, no–I can believe whatever I want, of course.  On another level, if I could self-identify as a Christian, then it would give so much direction to an otherwise extremely difficult (and basically directionless) spiritual journey.  Maybe that’s not enough.  As usual, I just don’t know.

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